I completed my PhD research as an industry based researcher. My employer was fully aware of my research. There was no support given by the employer other than encouragement. However, I used the company information which I had access to as part of my role. My employer had no objection and I was extremely careful of the disclosure I made.

I have now completed my PhD and graduated. My dissertation is publicly available on my university website. A google search can bring it up too.

QUESTION: If my employer wants to use my dissertation, would it be ethical for me to ask for a payment?

EDIT: To clarify some comments below, my company wants to use my dissertation as part of an advocacy campaign.

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    hypothetically speaking; if you have made use of the company information and the company have not objected to it, I would take that alone as a support to your research. That said, I am not sure if that entitles them to take your research as their own. Otherwise I am not sure if the title accurately reflects the content of the question. BTW, congrats on the PhD :)
    – posdef
    May 6, 2013 at 11:34
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    If they paid you while you did the work, they supported your work (via your stomach).
    – JeffE
    May 6, 2013 at 12:58
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    How would you even ask for a payment if you wanted to? (Assuming there are no patent rights, but just the question of whether they can acquire knowledge from reading the dissertation.) Would you not tell them it is publicly available for free on the web, and hope they wouldn't notice? Or admit that it's publicly available but say that as your employer they really ought to pay you if they read it? Either way would likely upset them. May 6, 2013 at 14:44
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    What do you mean by using it as part of an advocacy campaign? If you mean citing it in support of their position, and using it with attribution to supply arguments or data, then you don't have any basis to object (assuming they don't misrepresent its contents) or ask for payment. If they want to recycle parts of your dissertation into another form (e.g., taking chunks of text from it to reuse as part of a position paper), then that would require your permission, and you could negotiate with them about the terms. May 6, 2013 at 18:54
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    For what it's worth, the title doesn't really match the question. Benefiting from it should be inherent in wider distribution.
    – Bobson
    May 6, 2013 at 19:54

5 Answers 5


I think your question is best rephrased as follows:

If someone wants to use my dissertation, would it be ethical for me to ask for a payment?

Assuming you are asking about using the intellectual content of your dissertation, the answer is NO. Whether or not that someone is your employer is irrelevant.

However, your actual presentation is protected by copyright, which for dissertations is normally completely held by the author. So if someone wanted to use your specific words and/or figures beyond the limits of fair use, then you have the right to seek compensation.

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    @aeismail : that would depend on the country, etc. For ex., in Brazil you can't have a patent of an idea, just of a product. If in the PhD you explain an idea, anyone is able to use/reproduce it. And the same to process. May 6, 2013 at 17:44
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    I don't think it would be unethical to ask, but you'd have no way to coerce them to agree, as they don't need your permission. It would certainly be weird to ask, and probably wouldn't help your career. May 6, 2013 at 19:21
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    @aeismail: Yes, it's a blanket statement for all dissertations, or more generally, all publications. Now, if someone wants to use your patent, that's a different story.
    – JeffE
    May 6, 2013 at 22:33
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    I still think this is too much of a blanket statement, because it doesn't account for using the actual content of the publication (figures, explanations, diagrams, etc.) in a commercial work.
    – aeismail
    May 7, 2013 at 8:43
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    Wow, 20 people found this answer worthy of upvoting but not the question ...
    – ThomasH
    Aug 6, 2013 at 20:56

Congratulations on your Ph.D.! You have contributed to humanity's lasting store of knowledge. To a first approximation, this knowledge is now freely available to everyone on the planet who is interested (and, perhaps, who can afford reproduction costs and/or to travel to your university), including your employer.

If they are still employing you, and they found your Ph.D. work valuable, your employer may find it in both your and their interests to increase your salary to retain you and encourage you to perform more similarly useful work for them. But asking them to pay you for using something that is freely available strikes me as counter to the principle of the academic pursuit in the first place.


I would like to address the title itself - how to benefit from wider distribution/usage/awareness of your research.

First, congratulations on your PhD - and your job!

I think it is very reasonable to want to get more benefit - financial or otherwise - for your work, so I hope I can suggest some ways you can make that happen.

For your dissertation, I believe your full compensation will be considered already paid. You were on staff when you made it, and from the wording I assume your employer let you spend "company time" on your work without threatening your pay or position. They also allowed you access and data that would likely have been unavailable to other researchers, and the quality of the data was likely high enough that you would have had to pay a significant sum of money for access to it - unless they have an open-data initiative, which almost no one seems to have in private industry (or at least its very rare). So your employer will almost certainly consider you paid in full, and consider any extra request ungrateful at best.

However, you are in a very good position - not only has the company employed and supported your work for years, but they are now expressing their opinion of your research and the value of it in a very positive way. They are saying its worth additional investment of time and money not just from you, but from other people as well.

Therefore, your potential is in the future work - not your past products. That's the only reason companies employ people anyway - for work to be produced, not out of gratitude for past accomplishments.

Now you are already the subject matter expert, so what would you like? Would you like to do some travel, presentation work, advocacy? How about more ambitious research which could be of even higher value to the company? Can a reasonable case be made for more generous expense accounts, a (larger) research budget, more latitude/authority in data collection or process improvement/alteration?

If nothing else you are in a good position for salary negotiations in the coming year, as you are now officially a PhD, and if they want to embrace and use your research then presumably they have a high opinion of you with good performance evaluations. If you want an administrative role, assistant(s), etc, now would be a good time to start brainstorming and dialog with your employer to see what plans they have for you, or if you just want to do more research you should all be on the same page.

If you want to just focus on your research and go back to work, that's fine too! If you will be doing post-doc work and therefore aren't simply done with school entirely, that's fine, but if you are done and it is implied that you'll be focusing/working with the company more then that is more support for increased pay going forward.

So you can very well get an extra payoff for your accomplishments, but its not likely to be in the form of paying to use your dissertation. You might qualify for a bonus, but that is usually something discussed before the fact. Its also possible that their use of your dissertation is a minor issue to them, so don't think it's worth millions if they are just trying to make use of something they feel they already paid for in a minor campaign that's <1% of their ad/PR budget.

TL;DR Collect your data, have a bullet-proof case of your value now and increasing value in the future, and I really suggest you not focus on trying to get more pay for past performance but rather take your pay in future salary/bonuses/prestige/etc.


The short answer is that it isn't unethical to ask for anything. It's just a question of how comfortable you are, and your relationship with that company. If you have some figure in mind which is can be justified somehow and you feel comfortable asking, then send them an invoice.

Oh, and can I have fifty bucks?

See, that wasn't so hard at all, and I don't feel dirty or anything.

I suspect the real question is "do I have a moral basis for asking for compensation"? Based on your description of the situation, I would say yes, especially if in their campaign they make it appear that the material from your thesis is associated with them, through you.

The information that you used in the research is worth something, and use of the research in the campaign is worth something. Dollar figures can be put on it, and a difference can be computed.


This kind of question is, incidentally, why it's very good to have a clear "Who gets to do what?" document before you set out - for example, I had very frank discussion with some people providing data for my PhD as to what they expected to get out of it.

In terms of the content of your dissertation, my take is not really - the whole point of academic research is to put it out into the world, and its not exactly surprising that the folks who employ you might find it useful.

So no, I wouldn't be inclined to ask for money directly.

However, if the company does indeed end up using it, the fact that they did so, and your intellectual output is contributing to the bottom line should absolutely come up in your next promotion meeting/performance review, etc.

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